John the Baptist looks hard at Jesus and says, ‘Look there is the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples with him immediately follow Jesus. This says a lot about John the Baptist. It says that he had schooled his disciples to follow Jesus when he was finally able to point him out.
It says that he was a good teacher since his disciples didn’t need to be told twice and furthermore it says that John the Baptist wasn’t interested in his own glory; his job was finished and it was time for him to get off the scene. He knew his mission and that was to be a forerunner for the Messiah when he made himself known. When the moment came, there was no hesitation or second thoughts. John hands over to Jesus and immediately steps into the background.
Knowing one’s task or profession thoroughly is a sign of great wisdom. Confining oneself to that particular task shows even greater wisdom. We all know of craftsmen who have learned a given task so thoroughly that it has become almost part of them. These men confine themselves to what they know and could never be described as jacks of all trades. They are true craftsmen.
These craftsmen and women are a dying breed, mores the pity. But we can learn from them because they are invariably very steady people, they never seem to be in a hurry; they have a rhythm to their work and rarely make mistakes. They know their business and all its aspects thoroughly. They are the very salt of the earth.
We are Christians, followers of Jesus. We too ought to know our task and carry it out assiduously. That means we must know Jesus, study his Gospels, and most of all spend time with him in prayer.
A lifetime spent in this way will have incalculable effects on our lives. It will mean that we will have rooted out petty jealousies, risen above mundane squabbles, and consistently avoided superficial judgements. We will have become so identified with our subject that no one will think of us without being reminded of Jesus’ own qualities of goodness and kindness.
These two disciples of John the Baptist slipped very easily from one master to the other. They did so because they could see that Jesus was truly the one who was foretold by the Prophets. They had listened to John and come to understand what kind of person the Messiah would be and so were able to recognise him when he was finally pointed out.
Quite naturally they begin to call him rabbi, teacher. It was as if they had moved up a class in school, moving on to higher studies. Moving from an elementary teacher to a true master. Later in John’s Gospel they will drop this title rabbi and call him Lord reflecting a deeper understanding of his role.
In John there is a quite different approach taken than in the other Gospels to the very first disciples and how they came to follow Jesus. There Jesus takes the initiative; here the disciples take the initiative. There are good theological reasons for John’s different approach. Jesus asks, ‘What do you want?’ or in other translations, ‘What are you looking for?’ By this John the Evangelist does not mean a banal enquiry as to why they are following Jesus. He is drawing attention to the basic need of man that causes him to turn to God.
And the answer that the disciples give is meant on the same theological level. They want to ‘stay’ with him. Here John means not just spending some time with Jesus but the need in man to find a lasting dwelling place, something that amidst the transient things of this world is truly permanent. Jesus answers, ‘Come and see.’ Once more we are on a theological level. Seeing for John means faith. They see with the eyes of faith which means that they believe in him.
These two first followers immediately act like disciples and go out to recruit others, most important among them being Simon Peter. You will notice that just as John the Baptist looked hard at Jesus and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’ now Jesus looks hard at Simon Peter and says, ‘You are to be called Cephas’ –meaning rock.
As we have said there is a lot in this looking, this seeing. John the Baptist says, ‘Look there is the Lamb of God.’ Jesus turned around and saw them following and after they say ‘Where do you live?’ he replies, ‘Come and see.’ They went and they saw where he lived. Seeing is believing, so runs the proverb. In John’s Gospel this is quite literally the case. So with the fourth Gospel you must always try to look below the surface and see the significance of these key words and discover the hidden layer of meaning which is so rewarding.
There are very many lessons for us in this particular Gospel passage and we have adverted to quite a few of them already. However, if I was to take one which I think is more important than the others I would say it is this: we have to graduate, to move up a step in our discipleship. I hope it is true that we all see ourselves as disciples. We are certainly all Catholics, we believe in God and in Christ and in his Church. But without denigrating the belief of any single person here I would like to suggest that you ought to think of cranking things up a notch or two.
Think about those two disciples: Andrew who was named and John himself the writer who didn’t give his name but who certainly knows what he is talking about. Think about them, they follow the Baptist and they surely believe that they are doing quite well. John can’t have been very easy to follow; his Gospel of Repentance was surely hard to live out in practice; and that’s saying nothing about his diet of locusts and wild honey!
They are prepared by John for the coming of the Messiah and all at once there he is standing before them and John the Baptist quietly fades into the background. Suddenly these two are in the presence of the real Master and they discover that with John the Baptist they have been only paddling in the shallow-end. Now with Jesus they must dive in the deep-end and they do so with great success.
It’s the same with us. There is a call within a call. There is the call which brings us into the fold of the Church. This might be through conversion as with quite a few here or, as with the majority, through coming to a personal decision to stay in the Church in which we were raised. That’s the first call. But then there is the second call, the call within the call, and that is to follow Jesus in a deeper more radical way. It is to take up with him completely and to dedicate one’s entire life to following him wholeheartedly.
It means spending a lot of time with him in prayer each day, it means studying the scriptures, it means going the extra mile, it means loving till it hurts, it means avoiding all forms of evil, and it means helping to carry his cross. Most of all it means dying and rising with him. This is moving up to the big class. This is achieving one’s full stature as a Christian. This is the challenge that lies before each one of us. This is letting Jesus look us full in the eye, like he did to Simon Peter, and saying from now on you will be called ‘rock’.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket